Discovering Brides Mound – Legends and Lore

To the west of the town of Glastonbury in South West Somerset, tucked between Wearyall Hill and the River Brue, lies an unassuming hill known as Brides Mound. Once hailed as the Western ‘Gateway to Avalon’ [1] the ancient entrance to the sacred islands, visitors to the spot now must make their way behind an industrial estate to discover a large field, with a mound boasting a few markers and usually some offerings, somewhat overgrown with nettles and brambles.  An avenue of trees has been planted to the west of the mound, and as it slopes towards the River Brue, a stone marks the approximate site of the now lost Brides Well.  The more famous Glastonbury Tor can be seen in the distance through the bushes.

Brides Mound – image via https://twitter.com/cerinorman/status/626311856811044864

Yet for all its modest appearance in modern times, Brides Mound is an area steeped in legends and folklore.  Some say it has been a sacred site since Neolithic times [1] [2], is one of the seven sacred isles of Avalon, and forms a gateway between worlds [3].  And certainly it forms a bridge between legendary worlds, as stories of Brigit, the Celtic Goddess and Christian saint, of King Arthur and Morgan le Fey, of Druids and of the legendary Holy Grail all weave their way through the landscape here, in this liminal space important in varied traditions.

Image via: https://www.unique-publications.co.uk/

In this two part series of blog posts exploring Brides Mound we will first look at the legends and lore associated with the area, and then go on in the next post to look at what importance it still has to visitors, and how people interact with the site in modern times.

Brigit

So who is Bride, who gives her name to Brides Mound? Brigit, also known as Bride, Brig, Brigantia, Brighid, Bridie and many other names, is an enigmatic figure. She is revered as both a Celtic Goddess and a Christian saint, and it is difficult to know where one begins and the other ends.

Brigid, that is, the female post, daughter of the Dagda. This is Brigit the female seer, or woman of insight, i.e. the goddess whom poets used to worship, for her cult was very great and very splendid. It is for this reason that they call her the goddess of poets by this title, and her sisters were Brigid the woman of leechcraft and Brigit, the woman of smithcraft i.e. goddesses, i.e., three daughters of the Dagda are they. By their names the goddess Brigid was called by all the Irish”

Cormac Mac Cuilennain, Tenth century scholar [4]

Brigit was an Irish triple Goddess of fire and water, of well and flame, of poetry, smithcraft and healing, and the later St Brigit of Kildare inherited much of her folklore and attributes.

However, the name Brides Mound dates only from around 1967, before this the area was known as Beckery, which has been variously translated to mean either ‘Little Ireland’ or ‘Bee-keepers island’ [2]

The early stories of Brigit and Beckery focus exclusively on links with the Christian Saint. Medieval writers William of Malmesbury, writing around 1135 CE and John of Glastonbury, writing around 1400 CE both claimed that St Brigid visited Glastonbury in 488 CE and stayed at Brides Mound in the chapel there. [5] [6]  The chapel was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, but was apparently renamed for St Brigit in honour of her visit, The relics she left behind, including a comb, a bell, weaving implements and a mirror, were all recorded as having been displayed at Beckery chapel.  They were said by William of Malmesbury to be ‘efficacious in curing divers diseases’ [7]

Continuing the healing tradition, John of Glastonbury also talks of an opening in the south wall of Brigit’s chapel that healed those who passed through it [5]. Though another tradition tells that with the arrival of St Brigit, healing wells would henceforth only be effective on her feast day of Imbolc (February 1st), and only for one hour after midnight [1].

In the late 19th and early 20th century, stories of Brigit and Brides Mound experienced a revival of interest, and her Celtic Goddess roots began to be emphasised. In 1898 John Goodchild expounded the idea that an ancient Irish cult venerating the Goddess had survived in Glastonbury and that St Brigit was the beloved Celtic Goddess transformed [6], and Alice Buckton, one of the celebrated ‘Avalonians’, staged a play in 1914 called ‘The Coming of Bride’, emphasising Brigit’s connections with druids and Brides Mound.  Also during this time of revival, ‘a most ancient Celtic bell’ thought to be the lost bell of St Brigit from Beckery chapel, was found and displayed at the Chalice Well for some years.[6]

Stories of Brides Mound and Brigit as Goddess continue to flourish in recent times.  In her modern creation Herstory of the Isle of Avalon, Kathy Jones tells of Nolava, The Lady of Avalon, giving birth to Bridie, granddaughter of Brigit, saying to her daughter ‘the place where you lie shall be called Brides Mound, Gateway to Avalon’ [3]

Artwork by Wendy Andrew: https://www.paintingdreams.co.uk/

Painting by Wendy Andrew showing Brigit with the Tor on one side and Brides Mound on the other, a bridge between two worlds.

King Arthur

There is a long association of King Arthur with the town of Glastonbury, which was strengthened in 1191 when the monks of Glastonbury Abbey found what they asserted to be the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere buried in the Abbey grounds. [6]

Two stories link King Arthur with Brides Mound specifically, both associated with the Celtic revival of the Grail romances by Malory and Tennyson [8] . In the first, Arthur comes to Brides Mound after having a recurring dream over three consecutive nights.  At Beckery chapel he has a vision of the Virgin Mary, who gives him a crystal cross, one of the ‘lost treasures of Glastonbury’.  This prompts him to change his coat of arms and contributes to his conversion to Christianity, earning the ire of Morgan le Fey. [1] [2]

In the second, when the mortally wounded Arthur is brought by barge to Avalon to be healed of his wounds, the barge stops at Beckery/Brides Mound, and it is here that Sir Bevidere threw Excalibur into the lake.  This makes the River Brue the dwelling place of the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian tradition. [1]

“Le Mort d’Arthur” by James Archer

Druids

Tradition holds that there was once a college for Druids, or perhaps Druidesses, on Brides Mound.  In one telling of the tale, Morgan le Fey was a pupil there [1], in another, Jesus studied at this great centre of learning [9]

A 1909 play called ‘The Light of Avalon’ and Alice Buckton’s 1914 play both emphasised this Druidic connection with Brides Mound [8]

The Holy Grail/The Blue Bowl

Around 1905 an ‘informal cult’ is reported to have evolved around the figure of Bride and the ‘Blue Bowl’ [8].  The blue bowl itself had been procured in Northern Italy by the Celticist John Goodchild. In 1898, guided by dreams to place it ‘in the women’s quarter’, he brought it to Glastonbury and hid it in the well on Brides Mound.  It was found in 1906 by the sisters Christina and Janet Allen, who had been visiting the area annually at Imbolc in pilgrimage to look for the ‘Holy Graal’.  At least one senior clergyman was said to have been convinced the blue bowl was the Holy Grail itself [8]

Image of the marker stone, Brides Well – via friendsofbridesmound.com

Much like Brigit herself, the ‘Holy Grail’ means different things to different people, with some saying it was the cup used by Christ at the last supper, and others identifying it as the Cauldron of Inspiration, one of the four great treasures of Ireland given to the Dagda, father of the Goddess Brigit.  It is said that the ‘scene against which the Grail is depicted changes as society does.’ [1]

Geo-mythic

Finally, we move to the myths of the living landscape itself.  The area of Brides Mound is also known as the ‘Salmon of Beckery’, as the shape of the landscape is said to be that of a great leaping fish.

“The creature is in the landscape, huge and stretching from the banks of the River Brue across Brides Mound and onto Wirrall Park”

[1]

In 1925 Katherine Maltwood discovered what she called the ‘Glastonbury Zodiac’ in the landscape here. Covering a circle 10 miles in radius, it consisted of a series of hills, streams, paths and rivers that together formed terrestrial representations of the twelve astrological constellations.  Brides Mound forms one of the two fishes representing Pisces in this arrangement. Continuing the links with King Arthur, Katherine considered the circle to be the original Round Table, and to physically document the quest for the Grail. [10]  Although she used modern landscape features in her zodiac layout, contradicting the idea that it dated from 2700 BCE as claimed, later writers have held that living the myth in the landscape ‘needs no legitimation based on antiquity’.[11]

The Glastonbury Zodiac – via http://www.palden.co.uk/leymap/zodiac.html

And in a more modern twist, those looking for evidence of extra-terrestrial interest in Glastonbury in the 1970’s looked again to the Glastonbury Zodiac, as a feature that ostensibly could only have been constructed with the benefit of an aerial view.[6]

Marion Bowman says that some in Glastonbury tell not of its history but of its ‘myth-story’,[12] and the rich ever-evolving, constantly re-interpreted stories of Brides Mound illustrate this beautifully.

References

1.            Strong, G. and J. Marshall, Brides Mound Gateway to Avalon. 2009, London: Flashmagic7.

2.            Friends of Brides Mound. Available from: http://friendsofbridesmound.com/.

3.            Jones, K., Priestess of Avalon, Priestess of the Goddess: A Renewed Spiritual Path for the 21st Century: a Journey of Transformation Within the Sacred Landscape of Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon. 2006: Ariadne Publications.

4.            Weber, C., Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. 2015: Weiser Books.

5.            Glastonbury Information Centre. Available from: https://www.unitythroughdiversity.org/brides-mound.html.

6.            Bowman, M., Arthur and Bridget in Avalon: Celtic myth, vernacular religion and contemporary spirituality in Glastonbury. Fabula, 2007. 48(1-2): p. 16-32.

7.            Brooke, C., The Early History of Glastonbury. An edition, translation and study of William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie. Edited by John Scott. Pp. viii+ 224. The Boydell Press, 1982.£ 25. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 1983. 34(3): p. 458-459.

8.            Glastonbury Antiquarian Society. 2015; Available from: https://glastonburysite.wordpress.com/talks/the-onset-of-avalon/.

9.            Bowman, M.I., Ancient Avalon, New Jerusalem, heart chakra of planet Earth: the local and the global in Glastonbury, in Handbook of New Age. 2007, Brill. p. 287-314.

10.          Sinclair, A. The Glastonbury Zodiac of Katherine Maltwood. 2008; Available from: https://sites.google.com/site/alisonsinc/maltwood’szodiac.

11.          Mann, N., The Star Temple of Avalon: Glastonbury’s Ancient Observatory Revealed. 2012: SCB Distributors.

12.          Bowman, M., More of the same? Christianity, vernacular religion and alternative spirituality in Glastonbury. Beyond New Age: exploring alternative spirituality, 2000: p. 83-104.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Tidbury says:

    Fascinating, a beautiful tying together of threads in a long and complex story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amelie Rowan says:

      Thank you so much!

      Like

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